Season Preview: Preseason favorites to win 2015 NCAA championship

Every team is hopeful it can somehow win a NCAA championship, but there are those few teams in the preseason with a lot more reason to hopeful of a national title.

With the regular season starting this weekend, several teams will begin the year as the favorites to win the national championship in May.


Check out the top five preseason favorites tow in the 2015 NCAA Division I-II men’s volleyball championship.

LOYOLA
There have been two repeat NCAA champions in the last 20 years and a non-West Coast team has never achieved the repeat feat. So why not Loyola, even if history is going against the Ramblers. Loyola returns all but two of its starters from last year’s championship team that ended the season on a 27-match winning streak to capture the program’s first national title. Among those returning starters includes outside attacker Thomas Jaeschke, the 2014 MIVA Player of the Year and one of the highest vote-getters for the Preseason All-American Teams. Along with Jaeschke, outside attacker Cody Caldwell and middle attacker Nicholas Olson both earned Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. Preseason All-American honors. However, the team will have to replace All-American opposite Joseph Smalzer. Smalzer ended his college career last season as a two-time winner of the National Server of the Year and the captain of the Ramblers’ championship team. Loyola was the unanimous favorite to win the MIVA in the conference’s preseason poll. It will be an increasingly challenging, though, for the Ramblers to win their third straight MIVA title because of the improving depth within the conference.

PEPPERDINE
Pepperdine has not only recovered from the controversy surrounding it missing the NCAA Tournament last season, but it is eyeing the opportunity this upcoming season to win the program’s first NCAA championship in a decade. The Waves under Hall of Fame coach Marv Dunphy return a majority of starters from last year’s team that won a share of the MPSF regular season championship. All-American setter Matt West returns for his senior season after being a 2014 finalist for the Lloy Ball Award, while All-American outside attacker Josh Taylor was among the nation’s leaders with a 4.01 kills per game average last season. In addition, the Waves were the overwhelming favorite to win the conference championship in the recently released MPSF Preseason Poll. Pepperdine in the poll set a record receiving all but one of the first-place votes and had a 23-point margin from second-place UC Santa Barbara. The one big issue surrounding Pepperdine is the team’s health with all-conference opposite Parker Kalmbach recovering from off-season surgery.

PENN STATE
High expectations are nothing new for Penn State. The expectation from the outside every season is for Penn State to go undefeated in an increasing improving EIVA and reach the NCAA Tournament. This season, though, those expectations have been ratcheted up an additional level with the Nittany Lions being ranked No. 3 in the preseason coaches poll. Penn State returns six starters from last year’s team that reached the NCAA Tournament semifinals, including Preseason All-American outside attacker Aaron Russell. Russell last season earned his second consecutive EIVA Player of the Year award and was named a finalist for the National Server of the Year with a nation-best 71 aces. In addition, Russell spent this off-season training with the U.S. Men’s National Team and was among the players being considered for a U.S. roster spot for the FIVB Men’s World Championships. Along with Russell, opposite Nick Goodell was named a Preseason All-American and setter Taylor Hammonds returns after earning all-conference honors last season. It’s been six years since Penn State’s last national title, and the Nittany Lions have all the pieces needed to end the wait for their third NCAA championship.

USC
Coach Bill Ferguson said in a preseason interview with Off the Block that this was one of the best off-seasons for his team since he took over the program. With a team capable of making a run at the NCAA championship, things in the 2015 season could get even better for the Trojans. USC All-American setter Micah Christenson opted to return for his senior season after spending the off-season as the starting setter for the U.S. Men’s National Team at the FIVB World League and FIVB Men’s World Championships. In addition, Christenson ended last season winning the Lloy Ball Award and led the Trojans to a berth in the eight-team MPSF Tournament. USC also returns Preseason All-American outside attacker Lucas Yoder, who was sixth in the nation last season with a 4.02 kills per game average. The ability for the Trojan, though, to make a run at the NCAA championship could come down to the continuing improvement and development of its other possible starting outside attackers Christian Riveria, Alex Slaught and Christopher Orenic.

UC SANTA BARBARA
For a team that typically exceeds preseason expectations, there is not a whole lot UC Santa Barbara can do to exceed expectations this year. The Gauchos were picked to finish in second place in the MPSF Preseason Poll and finished at No. 4 in the preseason national coaches poll — the team’s highest preseason ranking since 2001. UC Santa Barbara ended last season reaching the MPSF Tournament semifinals and finishing in the top four of the MPSF standings for the first time in almost a decade. Among the starters returning for Gauchos includes Preseason All-American setter Jonah Seif. Seif in 2014 was in the nation’s top 15 with with a 10.46 blocks per game average. UC Santa Barbara last season also held opponents to a MPSF-best .233 attack percentage. The biggest question for the Gauchos entering upcoming season is its production from the outside attacker position as it attempts to replace two of its starting outside attackers from last year’s team.